Subject Matter Expert


In the world of training and development, there are several key players that unite to create exemplary training experiences. The most obvious are the instructional designers who will create the training and the trainers who will facilitate it, but without a subject matter expert, neither could do their job. A subject matter expert is a person who is an authority in a particular field or area. Their title is earned through a combination of experience and education. Instructional designers and trainers are not always skilled in the content areas for which they will be writing content or training. Many times they do not have any knowledge about the content area. Subject matter experts are brought in to provide the facts and make sure that the instructional designers and trainers correctly interpret the information.

Identifying a Subject Matter Expert

There is not an official organization that bequeaths the title of subject matter expert to a person. This title is usually an unofficial title given to a person within an organization that has a high level of expertise in an area. In a customer service organization, an instructional designer or trainer may work with a tenured customer service agent or first-level supervisor as a subject matter expert. Because of their long-term experience, these individuals understand the content or process at a deeper level. They will be able to point out nuances that may trip up learners and how the new content or process fits in with everything else the learner will need to know on the job.

Working with a Subject Matter Expert

The relationship between an instructional designer and a subject matter expert is notoriously a point of grievance in many training and development departments. Sometimes one oversteps into the other’s territory. Therefore, it is important to note the difference in responsibilities and expertise.

An instructional designer is an expert at how something should be taught. This person has experience with the ADDIE model, has studied adult learning theories, and understands how to chunk information in a way that is conducive to learning and retention. This person’s full time job is planning and designing courses.

A subject matter expert is an expert in a specific content area or process. This person typically engages in work that is closely related to the content area or process for which he or she has been identified as an expert. This means that a customer service agent that is a subject matter expert typically holds a full-time job as a customer service agent and has done so for many years. This person does not usually have experience in teaching or developing lessons, but does have plenty of on the job experience.

Subject matter experts should refrain from proposing set parameters for courses such as: modality, length, or how it should be chunked. Instructional designers should listen carefully to the information subject matter experts have to offer and should never make judgements about how whether a piece of information is essential or not. This is the subject matter expert’s domain.

In addition to providing an initial understanding of the content to be taught, subject matter experts are often also engaged in the design process to ensure that the instructional designer has During this phase, the instructional designer should be prepared to explain and defend his or her design decisions. Subject matter experts sometimes have ideas about how they think something should be taught and may question the design decisions made. Often it will be necessary to explain how a design decision, like incorporating interactive learning content, can promote learning and retention.

Sharing drafts of the course between instructional designers and subject matter experts often presents a headache too. Even if the organization has a network server within which to share large files, subject matter experts should review the course from the learner’s perspective. Using a learning management system to review and host the final product is a great way to make sure your subject matter expert is reviewing the course from a learner’s perspective.

Mindflash is a learning management system that allows you to give subject matter experts easy access to courses. Mindflash even offers integrated software for content development, so that instructional designers can leverage materials that subject matter experts may already have available. Sign up for a free trial of Mindflash today to see how easy it is to collaborate with subject matter experts.

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